Quit, and You’ll Pay for it!

A committed jogger for seventeen years, I decided to quit one day. Dumbest thing I ever did. That was thirteen years ago and I’ve been falling apart ever since. I’ve gained weight, become a sugar junky, and can barely walk a flight of stairs without getting out of breath and my legs feeling like spaghetti. I can blame it on my age and aches and pains; even use my ailments as excuses for not doing better. But I can only blame myself. I’m the type of person that if a doctor ever told me I’d never walk again, I’d not only walk, I’d run straight into his office wearing an “I told you so” sign around my neck.

But, today I’ve thought: am I angry with myself for getting old? So angry that I’m punishing my body by giving up on it and thinking who the heck cares anyway? Is it self-pity? Loneliness? Depression? Or have I just gotten too fat and lazy to care anymore?

Feeling discouraged, I messaged my son on Facebook this morning. This is what he wrote back:

“I know for myself when I’m out running and training I feel alive, free, and have internal peace. There is a sense of accomplishment each and every time. Not so much in the training but in overcoming all the mental thoughts about why I don’t have to today, or I’m too busy, or my body needs a break and so forth. Once I’m at Hobby Park I look around, and I see the trees, I hear nature, I feel the elements, and I say to myself, “I did it. I’m here.” No one made me, no one encouraged me, no one else had anything to do with me being there, but me. I’ve learned, not in a narcissistic mindset, that really so much that happens in my life is the result of choices I make; good, bad, or ugly. I’m not being anti-dependent upon God, I’m fully dependent upon Him, but even He does not overcome my “flesh” for me. I have to exercise authority over it. Every time I go to Hobby Park I rejoice for overcoming my flesh because I know how difficult the workout is going to be because I control the workout and they SUCK every time, but the sense of accomplishment is awesome. I finish, I look around and it’s just me. No fans cheering me on, no designated finish line and a medal waiting to be placed around my neck; no one even really knowing how difficult the training is I just completed and how I had to push through my body shutting down. But I know!!! God knows!!! The birds, trees, and elements know because they cheer me on! They smile down at me like a father takes pleasure in seeing his son overcome a difficult challenge and not quit. God, His heavenly host, and creation cheer me on and that’s enough for me. Love ya mommy dearest!!!!”

I got off my lazy, fat butt and went for a thirty-minute walk. My body hated me for it, but my mind was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Hopefully, this is the beginning of a long, over-due relationship with walking and feeling strong again.

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My Accordion, My Best Friend

I was such an introvert growing up. I’d rather stay in my room with the door shut, singing and playing my accordion than chasing boys in the neighbourhood. Many times I’d storm into my room bawling while strapping on my accordion. Once I started playing and singing, the blues slid off my back and slithered out the door like a snake.

My accordion was my best friend. It helped me get through some of the toughest times of my life, like sitting in school wishing I was anyplace but there. Compared to everyone else I felt brain-dead till I learned to play the accordion. Even the teacher called and asked mom what she had done differently because I was doing so much better in school.

Yeah, my buddy did stuff like that for me. It gave me self-confidence. Heck, If I could learn to squeeze the bellows in and out, figure out which little black buttons to push and play the keyboard all at the same time, I could conquer the world. Well, maybe not the whole world, but my little world at least.

I realized that God was looking out for me. He knew I needed an outlet, something special that I could do, so He gave me the gift of music. I was never Lawrence Welk or Liberace on accordion and piano. I was just plain me. Like Frank Sinatra, I did it my way.

My accordion gave me the courage to sing solos in church, too. Sliding my arms through the shoulder straps, feeling the weight of the accordion against my chest was like wearing a shield of armour. My hands got sweaty and my voice quivered, but I was less afraid with my buddy leaning against me.

I began playing the accordion when I was twelve. Mom bartered the preacher’s wife to give me lessons in exchange for cleaning her house. That only lasted a few weeks. I couldn’t help it that I played what was in my head instead of what was on the music sheet. She shouldn’t have played the stupid song for me before starting the lesson and then again before I left. Not my fault.

She quit. Said I had perfect pitch, whatever that meant, and that she couldn’t teach me. That really made me feel smart. Couldn’t teach me? I thought preacher’s wives always spoke the truth. That’s okay. I didn’t want to figure out all that math and follow those little black notes dancing all over the page anyway. It was so much easier to hear the song and just play it and be done with it.

I was happy that I didn’t have to waste my time practising anymore. It was cramping my style; taking away the joy of playing from my heart. So what if I wasn’t doing it right. It made me feel right and that’s all that mattered to me.

My buddy didn’t mind either. We had a good thing going and didn’t want some impatient accordion teacher messing it up.

As soon as I’d come home from school, I’d play my accordion, sometimes for hours. It was my happy pill when I felt down, my antidote against anger and frustration.

Shortly after I re-married, I bought a new accordion; shiny black, electric, came all the way from Italy. A real beauty. But it could never take the place of the one that saw me through the tough times of growing up. It was faded and worn and stained with tears. The bellows were leaking air, and the leather straps were peeling and cracking. But the most expensive accordion in the world could never replace the memories my best friend and I shared so many years ago.

I guess I can still play the accordion if I’d get it out of the closet. But fifty pounds way back when was light compared to now. But I didn’t stop playing it for that reason. It’s just that other things have taken priority, like a husband and two dogs, digital designs, and doing laundry and cleaning the house. Okay, I’m lying. The truth is I just got out of the habit. Like jogging and walking and eating right. I think I need to get back in the groove.

So tomorrow, If I can still lift it, I’m getting my accordion out of the closet and play it. I miss it. Who knows? It might make me feel twenty again. Heck, I’ll settle for fifty!

Well, this is tomorrow. I dragged my accordion out of the closet. It felt like it weighed a ton, and putting it on was like wrestling an octopus. And just as I knew they would, Bella ran and hid under my husband’s computer desk, trembling and Pepper stood there sniffing it to death.

Ten minutes later, I finally got it on, unhooked the snaps fastening the bellows together, slid my hand under the thickly padded strap attached to the Base and began playing. Just like riding a bike; once you learn you never forget. However, it didn’t make me feel twenty again, not even fifty. I guess nothing can work that kind of miracle!

 

 

 

 

True Love

Growing up, without saying a word, my dad taught me men are not to be trusted. They sleep late, work when they feel like it, and treat women like dirt; expecting them to do everything, be everything, and keep their mouth shut. That’s when anger gave birth to the Incredible Hulk. That’s when a sweet, faint-hearted child became a strong, courageous woman fighting against injustice toward women and all the underdogs of the world. No womanizing, woman-abusing anybody-abuser was safe in my world.

It’s no wonder my ex-husband and I didn’t stay married long. His big mouth was as abusive as his rough hands slapping me till my ears rung and slamming me against the wall squeezing my throat. He just didn’t realize he had a tiger by the tail until he dragged his butt home from work one day to find his bags sitting outside the door and the locks changed.

Now, holding my nine-month-old son on my lap, my cynical, twenty-year-old heart told me I can trust no one. I can depend on no one; not my family, not my friends, not my church, no one. I’ll have to buckle up, woman-up and stand on my own two feet.

As a single mom, divorced and back in the dating scene I soon discovered that guys only wanted one thing from me, and it wasn’t my keen mind. Fueled by the memory of being molested at the age of thirteen, sexually harassed on the job, and nearly date-raped one horror-filled night, the Hulk inside me grew increasingly fierce and strong; fighting all men and needing none because no “real” man existed in this so-called man’s world!

So I stumbled along, alone and raising my son the best I knew how. He was my little man, my hero; the only living soul my heart truly trusted and believed in. Still, my heart yearned for the right man for me. I was too young to go through life alone, and besides, my son deserved a loving father. But the wall of steel protecting my untrusting heart would take the strength of Superman to break down.

One Friday summer’s night out with, my niece and five-year-old, we dragged up and down Main Street in Debbie’s bright yellow, 69 Mustang. It wasn’t my style to do such a teeny-bopper thing but that night I decided to go along just for the fun of it.

Then we spotted them. Two neatly dressed, good-looking guys sitting on the hood of a fire engine red, 63 Ford. Immediately, boy-crazy Debbie pulled into the service station where two curious guys slid off the hood of the car and strutted towards us like a couple of peacocks.

I had just broken up with a church-going-God-professing-born-again Christian who proved to be a druggie, a liar and a cheat, and just plain crazy! Shortly after our break-up, he barged into my apartment waving a gun. I never felt as afraid for my child’s and my life as I did that day. You can only imagine my relief when he said he was going to kill himself and stormed out the door.

So I was far from ready to strike up a conversation, let alone a relationship with Prince Charming poking his head through the car window.

However, soon after meeting that night, Buck and I began dating. But my heart was never off guard. Not even when I saw how much he loved Robbie. Not even when he knelt beside me, gazing into my eyes with the love I’d never seen before. Not even when he asked me to marry him.

My brain said he was a good man. My heart said he’s just like all the others. My brain said he’s good for me and that I can learn to trust him. My heart said when he finds out how I really am, he’ll run, just like everyone else. My brain said to give him a chance. My heart said it will never yield to any man any time this side of heaven.

Six months later, we got married.

This man saw the worst anyone has ever seen in me before and loved me in spite of my suspicions, fears, and insecurities. He held me when I cried, he supported me during counselling, he talked to me, he listened to me, he encouraged me. He lifted me up high and taught me how to fly. No one except Jesus has ever loved me like that before.

He weathered the storm. He pushed through the barriers. He broke down the walls of steel with his stubborn love, his gentle strength and patience and longsuffering. He won my heart.

I thank God for our forty-five years together and for the love and happiness that few people share simply because they don’t push through the rough times. Most of all, I thank God for revealing His unconditional, steadfast, unwavering love for me through my awesome husband; the man He created just for me.

I still have trust issues. I still view the world as being more evil than good. I still, and always will have a fighting spirit against injustice. But because of one man’s stubborn persistence, I finally know the meaning of true love.

I’m Old But I Ain’t Dead!

Sometimes I wish I were still that little girl, sitting on the kitchen counter, feeling moms firm touch as she slides my socks and shoes over my chubby feet. I wish I could run through the woods with my brothers, chase butterflies, and walk along the banks of the clear, trickling streams. I wish I could turn over one more rock, one more time with my brothers, looking for lizards and taking our precious treasures to the creek and watch them swim away. I wish I could see the bullfrogs plopping through the thick, green grass near the spring house. I wish I could swing beneath the limbs of the old giant oak tree, feel my long red hair blowing in the breeze; my feet nearly touching the sky.

Childhood memories; enthralling interludes between the confusing times of trying to figure things out for myself and having a real sense of belonging in a world so big and mean.

In school, I felt so out-of-place that I might as well have been on the moon. Had I not been so afraid of the consequences, I would have run away every single day. Like the chainsaw massacre, a cloud of doom hung over my head, causing my heart to tremble with fear. And as a shy, insecure six-year-old, nothing was more fearful than a shrew for a teacher and a classroom full of Einstein’s and social butterflies.

It seems that from my first gulp of polluted air in this chaotic world I’ve been plagued with this never-good-enough-something-is-wrong with me feeling. I didn’t ask for it, I don’t want it, and I’ve spent nearly my entire life getting rid of it. But it’s stuck like superglue inside my brain.

I guess that’s why being old is so difficult for me. The bigger everyone else’s world gets the smaller mine shrinks. Like a withering flower, old people are viewed by many as losing their charm and beauty and usefulness. We’re too slow, too forgetful, too out of touch with young people’s lingo and technology. It’s as if being old means our feelings are dried up, our ears are deaf, and our physical and emotional desires are dead.

And I wonder: is this how my mother felt when she was seventy-one? What about my dad? They didn’t share their feelings with me; especially not my dad. And the feelings my mother shared were always negative and meant to make me feel responsible for all her woes. So I have no gauge to go by, only my gut telling me that old age just ain’t fair.

The only consolation I have is that all young people if they live long enough, will be old one day. They’ll experience aches and pains, grief and loneliness like never before. They’ll say more good-byes to their family and friends than they ever thought possible. They’ll look in the mirror and not recognize the person looking back at them. They’ll feel forgotten, neglected, at the bottom of the totem pole where old people just don’t fit in. I guess only then will they understand that as long as people have air in their lungs their feelings, needs and desires are still alive and worthy of love and respect. Only then will they scream from the top of their lungs to a cold and heartless world, “I’m old, but I ain’t dead!”

My Four-legged Girls

We’re sitting on the back porch, Bella pressing her regal nose against the screen watching the squirrels and Pepper curled contentedly on my lap sniffing the air.

Bella’s eyes are like those of an Egyptian Princess; only hers are naturally and perfectly lined in black, melting my heart with her wide-eyed expressions of love every time she looks at me.

Pepper is jet black, except for the white on her chest and dainty paws. Looking up at me, rolling her big brown eyes, it’s as if she’s looking straight into my soul. I press her head against my chest and whisper how beautiful and precious she is to me.

That’s when I got to thinking.

My girls don’t need to take thousands of selfies to prove to the world how beautiful they are. They don’t have to wear the latest fashions, walk with a strut, talk like the Queen, or become members of a Country Club to prove their self-worth. They don’t need hundreds of fans on Facebook or thousands of likes and comments on WordPress to boost and encourage their ego.

My girls don’t need to be painted up, jewelled up or prettied up in any fashion to be dazzling to the eyes and pleasing to the soul.

My girls are lovely and gracious, loving and forgiving, fun and playful. My girls take life as it comes and remain beautiful in spite of the bad things that have happened to them. My girls are strong and loyal and truly excited to see me when I get up in the mornings or come in from being outside for a few minutes. My girls treat me like I’m the most important thing in their lives.

And that’s why I love them. They don’t try to be anything. They don’t try to prove anything. They just are.

Secrets in the Attic

I can still hear the distinctive scraping sound of the board sliding across the opening in the floor and see her creeping down the ladder. She only came down to empty the slop jar and replenish her food and water supply. How long had she lived up there, a week? A month? A year? I don’t remember. But I will never forget her dark, glaring eyes and wrinkled frown when she turned and saw me standing there. I’ll never forget the cold-steal blade of anger and hatred piercing my soul or the hurt and confusion I felt.

It was a makeshift bedroom daddy half-heartedly put together for the two of them when my grandmother came to live with us. Mom laid a carpet remnant across the plywood floor and somehow, daddy maneuvered a full-size bed through the narrow opening. Then came an old dresser, and a couple of makeshift night stands and TV. Mom added some personal touches with a few lamps, a pretty bedspread and setting pictures on the dresser. There were no windows or walls or ceiling covering the exposed, unsightly wiring. No heating or air. Just a temporary, cave-like room for my parent’s privacy.

Now, mom made it her permanent home; her escape from a disgruntled mother-in-law; an emotional strike against a family who didn’t seem to care or appreciate the sacrifices she made. Let them fend for themselves. Let them do their own cooking and cleaning, washing and ironing and dealing with the bill collectors banging on the door.

But that’s not what drove her to live in the attic. That’s not what pushed her to the brink of insanity.

For years I hated her foster-mother and the abuse my mother suffered at her hands. I hated my grandmother for putting her in an orphanage and my alcoholic grandfather for molesting her. I hated that my mother was too afraid to run away from her foster home and get help. I hated that she was never able to recover; that she never experienced freedom from her horror-filled childhood. And I hated that the aftermath of her abuse ricocheted through the family poking holes in our souls.

Even today I still wonder how it feels to a child to be held and kissed. To be praised and loved unconditionally. What does the world look like through their fearless eyes? What does it sound like without cruel and condemning voices shouting in their ears?

Looking back, the attic is as dismal today as it was decades ago. Secretly, it holds my mother’s tears, her broken soul and raging screams against an unfair world and a God who would allow bad things to happen; especially to a defenseless child. It holds the secrets of a little girl longing to be loved so that she could know how to love her own children; to be less critical and more patient and understanding. Only the attic knows how she longed for her husband’s physical and emotional support; to help lift and carry her heavy burden and to prove the words of love he spoke to her. And only the attic knows what led her to climb down that creaky ladder that day, put away the slop jar, and join her family again.

I wish I could say that things got better after that, that my youngest brother stopped getting into trouble, drinking and doing drugs. I wish I could say mom never had other breakdowns and that daddy got a job and mom didn’t have to work three jobs to keep our heads above water. I wish I could say that we learned to communicate without screaming and yelling and hurting one another.

But I can’t go back and change a thing. I can only keep pressing forward with a better understanding and perspective than I had as a child. I can appreciate the loving family God gave me through my husband and my son and his growing family. And I can accept that I live in a broken world and bad things are going to happen. It’s not my fault. It’s not God’s fault. It’s just the way of a fallen world. We all have a choice in how we play the cards we are dealt.

Just Let Go!

Old age is not for the faint of heart! To get there, you have to push through the birth canal, survive childhood, adolescence, peer-pressure, and acne. You go through High School, puppy love, and heartaches. You skip college, get a job and hopefully earn enough money to pay for the used car you bought. Then you fall in love. Get married. Get your own place. And have a kid.

Now the fun begins. With true grit, you battle with his temper tantrums, potty training and cutting up in kindergarten. In Junior and Senior High you struggle through the designer-clothes-thing you can’t afford to buy, wrecked cars, girlfriends from Hell, and strange ideas; like living in the wilderness some day. You feel his pain and heartaches, get frustrated when he rebels, and want to clip his wings but let him fly. You pray for him, lose sleep over him, and want nothing but the best for him.

Then, he gets married and leaves the nest to start a family of his own. You’re happy for him, but you cry and grieve for the mischievous little boy who once was but will never be again.

Then he has kids that feel just like your own. You play with them, read to them, make up stories for them. You dry their eyes, rock them to sleep and tell them how precious they are and how blessed you are to have them in your life.

Then they grow up and have kids of their own. But things are different this go around. Your kid is now the grandparent. It’s time to take a back seat and watch as his grandkids run to him, jump in his arms and giggle with delight as he tickles them. It’s his turn to feel the love and the joy of being a grandparent. It’s his turn to help guide and direct and let them fly. It’s his turn to shine.

By now, you are feeling like a shadow. A stranger in a world where great-grandparents struggle to belong. You know you are still loved, but no longer feel needed or that your opinions are as valuable as they once were. Like sitting in a drifting boat, things that were once bigger than life become tiny specks on the horizon. You cling to your memories, grieve for your losses, and long for the moments in time that once were but will never be again.

This is the part where you face the naked truth that it’s the way of life. That you can’t build your dreams on shifting sand; changing relationships, ideas and opinions. This is the part where we must lower our expectations to protect our fragile feelings from anger, bitterness, and resentment. This is the part where we stop pining for the good old days, keep pressing forward and live each day to its fullest. This is the gut-wrenching part where we must unclench our white-knuckled hearts and just let go.

Blessings from Above

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord

What a pleasant surprise when our next door neighbor

Joined my husband and me on the back porch,

His face beaming, pen, and paper in hand.

Sitting in the rocker across from us, and as if

The words could hardly wait to jump out of his mouth

He pronounced, “Okay. This is what we’re going to do . . .”

And true to his word, the very next day

Two, happy-faced fellows from his church

Bravely crawled under our house with the bugs

And cobwebs and spiders and snake skins

And replaced our broken down leaky water heater

With a brand spanking new one. Paid in full!

We are still speechless, Lord.

Only you know how truly grateful we are

To you and our neighbor and his church

And the two young men who donated

Their valuable time to help us in our time of need.

It’s no surprise, coming from you,

But we’re accustomed to helping others

And not the other way around.

And you know how I despise being the one in need.

But this time, you tied my hands behind my back

opened my eyes and helped me to see the blessing

Your people received from you by obediently helping us.

The pond in our front yard is slowly drying up

And we now have the hottest water we’ve had in weeks.

Thank you, Lord, for always being faithful to your Word

And for putting people in our lives who are willing

To be your feet and hands to shower us

With blessings from above.

 

 

The Truth Will Set You Free!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seek to live in my love, which covers a multitude of sins:
both yours and others’ . . .

You always know, Lord
The words I need to hear when I need to hear them;
Especially this morning as I look back
And see how hard and foolishly I labored to cover up my ugly flaws.
As a child, I remember soaking cucumber peelings in cold water
And putting them on my face to bleach out my freckles.
I remember how it hurt pinching the end of my nose with a clothespin
In high hopes of making it smaller.
When I was finally allowed, I drew on some eyebrows,
Painted my eyelashes, and smeared makeup on my face.
Everything in my world had to be perfect:
My dolls. My shoes. My roller skates. My performance . . .
I wish someone had taken the time to lead me in the right direction
Before my twisted brain told me I had to be perfect to be loved;
That the world around me doesn’t accept rejects.
I wish Someone had spoken the truth about God and His unconditional love
Before I conjured up a false face, stuffed my sensitive feelings deep inside
And wore a neon sign around my neck that shouted to the world:
Cut me, I won’t bleed!
I was young, naïve, and a Christian.
And Christians have a whole different set of rules
From the rest of the world to follow.
Christians are slow to anger,
Quick to forgive and never ever question God.
Christians turn the other cheek,
Shake the dust off their feet and suffer in silence.
Christians love their enemies and bless those who curse them.
But what my delicate ears heard was:
Christians are not human.
They never mess up.
Never get angry, never tell anyone what they really think and mean.
Christians bury their hurts, anger, and disappointments deep inside,
Let it fester and blow up in their face one day, make them lose complete control,
And forget to be careful little tongue what they say.
Christians let shame and regret scream in their ears what a failure they are,
That God is terribly disappointed and sorry He ever created them.
Christians let their failure to be perfect cast them into the arms of depression
Self-loathing and hopelessness.
At least that’s the time bomb of belief’s that blew up and shattered my world . . .
Tired of living a lie and what it was doing to me,
I sent God a whirling smoke signal of distress.
He came to my rescue, and ever so slowly and gently,
He opened my eyes to His love, His truth,
His footprints across the blazing desert of life.
He released my heavy armor of perfectionism.
He covered my naked, trembling body with his cloak of righteousness.
He bathed my tarnished heart in His forgiveness.
He lifted the world of guilt and shame off my shoulders.
He told me that I don’t have to be perfect for Him to love me,
That it is fruitless to even try.
He told me that He created me in His image,
That I am the apple of His eye,
That all the wrong in my life He can fix and make it right . . .
He’s been my daily, faithful guide ever since.
We have coffee together on the back porch.
We have long intimate talks together.
We walk together, laugh together, cry together.
But what I love the most about this amazing relationship
Is that I can lean back, kick off my shoes, and just be me!

Adios!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pain
You are no friend of mine
I don’t even like you
Why are you picking on this little old lady
You big bully
Shame on you
You plunged a knife into my back
You gripped my heart with fear
You made me cry then you laughed in my face
You watered down my painkillers
You stole my joy
My blissful moments on the back porch
With my husband
With my dog
With God
You poisoned my morning coffee
You deafened my ears to solace
You blinded my eyes to hope
You exposed my fragility
My nakedness
My pride
You nailed me to a splintered cross of agony and defeat
Well
The party’s over
You’ve had your fun
But you don’t own me
People are praying for me
God is helping me
And I feel you ebbing away
But before you go I want to thank you
For showing me that I am stronger than I thought
And that no matter how big you may think you are
My God is bigger
My faith is deeper
My hope is higher
So
Get along from whence you came
You’re cramping my style
I have a life to live
Grandbabies and great grandbabies to hold
Places to go and people to see
And you’re not welcome to tag along
So adios my torturous foe
And may we never meet again!